Aging Gracefully

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Four Healthy Behaviors Add 14 Years

People who practice four specific behaviors live, on average, 14 more years compared to people who don’t practice those healthy behaviors, according to a new British study.

The four behaviors – not smoking, performing regular exercise, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day – had each been independently shown to increase lifespan, but this was the first study to examine their combined value.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council studied 20,000 men and women from the city of Norfolk who were between the ages of 45 and 79 in the years between 1993 and 1997. The participants filled out questionnaires tracking their health habits. Then, their death rates were recorded until 2006. The study was reported in the January 8, 2008 edition of the journal PLOS Medicine. It is part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), conducted in 10 European countries. EPIC is the largest-ever study of diet and health.

Dr. Weil’s take: This is an extraordinarily valuable study. If a pharmaceutical drug could add even two or three years to life, the news would be trumpeted around the world. But these four simple lifestyle habits not only add an average of 14 years, they also allow those years to be lived with greater vigor and vitality. The only behavior I question is the one regarding alcohol consumption, as some studies have shown ambiguous results. But by all means, if you don’t practice the other three, start now!

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